Chasing 42

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Archive for the tag “endurance training”

Across The Years 2015 Race Report

All good adventures begin calmly, with no real sense of the drama that is about to unfold. In a sense, the unexpected is in part what makes them so interesting in the first place. My journey now to Arizona for the Across the Years event may, in some small fashion, qualify as just such an adventure.

It has been a busy, hectic fall to say the least. Although I kept my mileage up, and was still quite concentrated on my training, I don’t feel like I spent the time necessary thinking about tackling a timed event like Across the Years. I registered for the 48-hour event, having completed the 24-hour event in 2013, and always eager for a new challenge. I knew that staying awake for that added amount of time would be a challenge, but I also knew that I was better trained than I was two years ago. My endurance is higher now, and I feel like my legs are stronger as well. I was excited by the prospect of running for that long, and the added challenged propelled me forward.

From a mileage and endurance standpoint, I was ready for this race. I had carved out time this fall for several longer back-to-back running experiences, and I’d spent some additional time working on slowing my pace to a degree that I knew would be more plausible for a longer period of time. However, I’d not gotten the chance to plan an overnight run similar to those I had enjoyed back in Iowa in previous years. I wasn’t sure how necessary it was at this point, but more importantly, I just ran out of time. The roads around here are not nearly as well-lit, they lack sidewalks, and they simply don’t present the same amount of ease in planning a safe route. I’ still on the hunt for just such a route, as I’d like to plan an overnight run for this spring in preparation for the Georgia Death Race. I’ll save that journey for another day!

The beautiful epicurean and I celebrated Christmas morning at home comfortably, as our flight to Arizona didn’t depart until 4PM. This was a welcome, relaxing change for the early AM flights we had grown accustomed to in past years. Despite some airline delays and rerouting, we still made it Arizona on Christmas night, which meant I had two solid days to relax and prepare before beginning the race on the morning of the 28th.

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I had packed all of my gear into my suitcase along with everything else I would need for an 8 day visit, which meant I was very strategic about what I brought. However, I still managed two pairs of running shoes, along with everything else, so I felt go about my preparation. I didn’t spend as much time worrying about packing and laying out nutrition because I knew the folks at Aravaipa Running would have a fantastic aid station with a fully stocked kitchen. At slower paces, my stomach seems to be ok with a wider variety of food, and I knew I’d be taking in more solid food throughout the race as well. I was also able to borrow a tent, sleeping back, and camping chair from my wonderful sister-in-law, in the event that I decided that a few hours of rest was warranted. The thought of sleeping and then having to get up on stiff legs again scared me, but I was ultimately uncertain of what my body was going to do with this experience.

I woke up on Monday morning and got ready, and we traveled the 20 minutes to Camelback Ranch for a very civilized 9AM start. This was the first day of the entire event, so I was starting with folks running anywhere from 24 hours to 6 days, which made for a bit of a larger crowd. I recognized a few folks off the bat, which was fun, and I knew I’d have plenty of time to chat with everyone throughout the race. For those not familiar, the event offers participants the option to run 24, 48, or 72 hours, or 6 days around a 1.0495 mile loop on mostly soft crushed warming track material and gravel, with smaller paved portions. There is an aid station at the start/finish, complete with a fully stocked kitchen, and you log your miles by crossing a timing mat every loop while wearing a timing chip.

Waiting for the race to begin...

Waiting for the race to begin…

The race director gave a few final announcements, and then sent us on our way about a minute after 9:00AM. I started off focusing on slowing myself down, almost to the point that it wasn’t comfortable, but knowing that it would help me in the long run. Temps were unseasonably cool, and it was only in the mid-30s when the race began. It would eventually climb to near 50, but this Arizona cold snap would prove to be one of my biggest obstacles.

Off we go!

Off we go!

The first few hours seemed to fly by pretty easily, and I was feeling really good. I was excited by the challenge ahead, and knew I had a lot of unexpected feelings to look forward to as the day ran into night. Despite my best efforts, I still snuck quite a few sub-10:00 minute miles, however. This would come back to haunt me as well. The sun warmed things up a bit, and I was able to shed a few layers, which was nice. All said, the first 25 miles seemed to fly by and it brought a smile to my face to know how comfortably I had tackled them.

Logging some easy miles!

Logging some easy miles!

The next 25 miles were ultimately just as comfortable. The epicurean came back over to spend some time with me in the afternoon as well, which broke up the day nicely. Although I was relatively comfortable in my singlet and arm warmers, it was telling that she was bundled up in the camping chair, wrapped in a down comforter. Despite my best efforts to slow down, I still hit the 50 mile mark in 9 hours 15 minutes. Although certainly not my fastest 50 mile time, I had not planned on hitting that mark until 11 or 12 miles in, based on pacing. This was my first rather substantial wake-up call and message to slow down even more.

In a 100-mile race, or a 24 hour event, my goal is always seemingly more about simply getting to the end. This means I can push myself a bit more, and know that the harder I push, the less time I’ll need to spend slowing down. My approach to running 48 hours was in some ways the opposite because I needed to simply get through the first 24-30 hours before the real race began. This proved to be an approach I wasn’t nearly as prepared to utilize as I had hoped.

Wishing the sun farewell...

Wishing the sun farewell…

By the time I hit mile 80, the sun was gone, and the colder temperatures were creeping back in. I was moving at a much slower pace, mostly out of necessity, which mean staying warm was more difficult. I ultimately opted for layers, and was able to keep my core relatively warm, but I hadn’t fully planned on running in 27 degree weather in the middle of the night. My muscles got progressively tighter and began to cramp. I simply wasn’t moving fast enough to keep them warm and loose. I began to notice some pain in my left achilles and on the top of my right foot, but it was fairly muted so I didn’t think much of it. I had stuck with the same pair of shoes up to this point (Hoka One One Stinson Evo), which would prove to be a mistake as well.

As I hit mile 90, I was doing a good job of alternating between an easy run and an aggressive walk. I had enjoyed a cup of hot tomato soup earlier, which  had warmed me up, and I was now sucking down a cup of noodles in chicken broth. Noodles had never tasted so good! After another hour or so, the pain in my feet had increased, but was still manageable if I kept moving. I realized soon thereafter that it was probably more substantial but the colder temperatures had masked the severity of my discomfort.

I hit the 100 mile mark around 21 hours 30 minutes, which was a sizable PR for me at the distance. My happiness at that fact quickly gave way to the reality that I was not planning on being at 100 miles for another 5-9 hours. I had still been moving faster than planned. I knew that moving slow for such an event was my biggest challenge, but I seemed to have underestimated just how difficult it was to control a slow, measured pace for that amount of time. My endurance training has resulted in some sizable increases in speed over the past two years, which has meant my “comfortable pace” has gotten much faster. The result, in an event like this, is more difficulty pulling back.

When I hit the 100 mile mark, I was pleased at tackling this distance yet again. However, i was also thinking more and more about the pain in my feet. I have some ambitious 2016 race goals, and the thought of compromising them due to a preventable injury didn’t sit well with me. I knew I could keep going, albeit in a fair amount of pain, but at what cost? I decided it simply wasn’t worth it to risk more permanent injury to run another 24 hours. Thus, I made the smart but difficult decision to drop down to the 24 hour event. I notified the race director, and popped into the warming tent to rest for a few minutes.

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I tacked on a few more miles in the final hours, but ultimately took it easy and stopped to massage my legs. I realized a bit too late that I should have no doubt changed my shoes at some point, but the cold, coupled with the stiffness in my muscles, had masked the symptoms long enough that it was too late by the time I realized what needed to be done. Happily, my legs still felt great other than the pain in my feet. What’s more, I had pushed through the overnight hours with relative ease. I had been prepared to take in some additional caffeine, as well as occupy my mind with music and podcasts. However, I never needed these aids, so my mind and body proved to be even more prepared for the sleepless overnight than I had imagined.

I squeezed in one final lap, and then watched as the clock struck 9:00AM and marked the full 24 hours. i watched as the next batch of runners embarked on their journey, and those in longer distance events continued to circle the loop (happily switching directions, as was done every 4 hours to prevent injury). I handed in my timing chip and collected my beer mug and 100-mile belt buckle, and made my way back to my campsite to pack things up and wait for the epicurean to retrieve me.

This had been another amazing event, and an experience I will never forget. Although I certainly would have liked to have lasted for 48 hours, I think I learned more from the experience. I know I have some work to do when it comes to pacing (still!), and I have a much better sense of my body’s limits and how to interpret fatigue. These lessons will ultimately be much more beneficial moving forward, as I continue chasing42!

Reflections on My First 90+ mile Training Week

When we left for the North Shore, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to hike as much as I wanted, let alone trail run. I was delighted to be able to dispel my doubts with some wonderful trail time. When we returned, I knew I needed to refocus my training in a sustainable way as I ramped up for the final few weeks of intense training before a two-week taper. The time off left me questioning how my body would handle the longer distances, but I knew I needed to find out before getting to Missouri and toeing the line for the Mark Twain 100. Thus, I dedicated the last week to a “slow, steady, and long” mantra and put my legs to the test. I couldn’t have been happier with the result.

As I’ve gotten more and more tuned in to the trail and ultra-running community, I’ve become more aware of the training schedules of many of the elite athletes that I admire. It seems as though I’m constantly reading about 100-120 mile training weeks being rattled off as though it was a normal part of life. For them, I suppose it is a normal part of life, eh? Those numbers still seem amazing to me, especially considering I still only have one 100-mile finish to my name, and my training weeks still hover more consistently in the 50-70 mile vicinity. Obviously, everyone’s body performs differently and is able to handle different amounts of stress and distance. I know how important it is to listen to your body and get a feel for when you’ve pushed yourself too far. This is something I’ve been working on rather consistently for the last several years, but I know I still have plenty to learn about what my body can accomplish.

We arrived back in Iowa on Sunday afternoon, and I began to give my upcoming training week some thought. Pacing, or more specifically, slowing down, has not been my strong suit in longer ultras, and it has predictably come back to bite me in the ass. Thus, I wanted a chance to force myself to slow down and put on some slower than comfortable miles. This week was my chance to work on pacing and endurance, and see just what my legs had in them at this point in my training regime.

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My weekly runs typically involve some speed work and hill work, with more repeated shorter runs. This time, I decided to push further during the week, and I committed to running four consecutive half marathons during the week. These four runs would force me to aim for around a 10:00 min/mile pace, and think more intentionally about form and nutrition. The weather fluctuated throughout the week but my legs held up beautifully. After each run, I still had plenty of gas left in the tank (as I should), and I didn’t feel the need for any recovery time. More importantly, I nailed my pacing goals, with overall paces within one second (or dead on) each time. What was even more exciting for me was I would be heading into my weekend long run(s) with 52 miles already in the books. This was by far the most miles I had ever tallied during the week, and it was exciting to know I didn’t feel any worse for the wear.

Although I was feeling good, I continued to be realistic about my weekend goals. I headed out to a groomed trail to meet some friends for a comfortable early Saturday morning run. The temps were comfortable, but the humidity was out in full force, and I was soaked fairly quickly. Humidity seems to sap my energy and weigh down my legs more than just about any other uncontrollable factor. I clocked in 20 miles on the trail, had a wonderful time chatting with friends about life, the universe, and running, and decided to break for a shower and some nutrition. It was a good opportunity to dry out, change socks, and squeeze in a little rest.

The most important aspect of ultra-training seems to be learning how to run on tired legs, which is why back-to-back runs are so important. Thus, I was delighted to meet up with some friends in the afternoon to join them for a run. This was their last large training brick in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin, so they entered the run after 115 miles on the bike. I love chatting with them about the similarities and differences between triathlon and ultra-running as sports, both in terms of the training and culture. It’s also a joy to have friends to understand the demands of ultra-endurance activities on a personal level. Our runs are always comfortable, and fly by no matter how tired we are from already running, cycling, or swimming. Well, they might have just gotten out of the water, but the only water I’m interested in incorporating into my workouts is the cold water I pour into my hydration pack!

Check!

Check!

The sun came out and cooked us a bit more than the early morning haze, but I still made it back home feeling energized and excited to have logged another 12+ miles. My shorter run on Sunday was a relaxing way to end the week, and the 7.5 miles I logged felt great, although the heat and humidity was beginning to wear me down. I had thought about the possibility of breaking 90 miles earlier in the weekend, but had put it out of my mind. My goal was simply to push myself and log some quality training miles. However, when I uploaded my data and realized I had hit 92.3 miles, I was ecstatic! Now, my goal is to once again run even further than this in a 24 hour period, so I am fully willing to celebrate in moderation. However, this week still seemed like a milestone to me. I proved to myself that I could log the big training week, and that my legs and body were at a level of fitness that could sustain those distances.  I may never log repeated 120 mile weeks, but I’ll keep tackling my goals and setting new goals along the way!

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